The Opposite of Selfishness is Self-Love

Odille Remmert
4 min readSep 21, 2020

The opposite of selfishness is not: altruism, generosity, or compassion for others. The opposite of selfishness is not: caring about others or putting others first. Selfishness does not come from being too focused on the self. Selfishness comes from the natural, human survival instinct — in response to not knowing how to give ourselves what we need and want, to feel safe.

Image Source: Canva.com

Although love, kindness, compassion, and connection with others, is a key part of who we are, as humans — and how we’ve been able to survive — it is not our strongest instinct.

Our strongest instinct is survival. It has to be, because if we don’t survive, we won’t be around, to express the love, kindness, compassion, and connection with others. We have a built-in, automatic instinct to survive.

There are two main causes of selfishness:

1. The brain identifies more than just physical danger — as a threat to our survival

2. We don’t know how to give ourselves what we need in order to feel safe

The Invisible Bear

Whenever we feel a negative emotion, the brain and body are flooded with stress chemicals like adrenaline and cortisol. These are the same chemicals that are released when we’re faced with physical danger. The fight-freeze-flight response.

One of the effects of these chemicals, is that they cause the part of the brain responsible for cognitive thinking to shut down — because, when you’re being chased by a bear, there’s no time to strategize and think things through.
You need to act immediately and instinctively, which is what the back of the brain is for.

All negative emotions — from fear, anger, and frustration, to loneliness, betrayal, and hopelessness — are levels of that fight-freeze-flight emergency state.

That survival instinct overrides our natural tendency toward compassion, cooperation, and connection — and, while we’re in the emergency state, we don’t have…

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Odille Remmert

Author of: "Change What Happened to You: How to Use Neuroscience to Get the Life You Want by Changing Your Negative Childhood Memories"